We all know the issues with middle school and reading. Weaknesses in reading skills can take a toll on student achievement as we ask and expect them to read more — both in volume and depth.
But nonfiction is so tempting, so tantalizing, so dramatic…just dare your reluctant readers not to pick up a book with a hairy spider on the cover or one that’s entitled Weird but True!
For those reluctant readers, the book is judged (and quickly!) by its cover.
So step one is to put those dramatic nonfiction covers front and center in your book display.
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1. Nonfiction builds a background
Using nonfiction is a terrific way to help students build background knowledge.
We hosted an annual Medieval Faire in our middle school. This was a great cross-curricular project, but it meant that students had to learn a lot about the time period in a short amount of time.
The answer: nonfiction texts designed for younger readers.
Students were able to gather information, look at photos of artifacts, and read graphs to quickly build a knowledge base.
An all-time favorite for building background knowledge fast is the DK Eyewitness and Guide books. I love the variety of titles, the vivid photographs, and comfortable mix of text and pictures.
2. Nonfiction is cool!
My middle school students love, love, love dystopian fiction. Seriously, they can’t get enough of it! So trying to get them to simply try nonfiction is a challenge.
However, books about weird things will snag them in an instant.
National Geographic Kids has a series entitled Weird but True! Ripped from the Headlines. These books are a big hit.
This series is ideal for helping students practice using text features like headlines, captions, and timelines.
The books read like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not and have students asking, “Did you know?” on a regular basis.
3. Unforgettable bios!
A few years ago I was talking to my students about Helen Keller. They didn’t know who she was! I was astounded!
I immediately found a biography and read it to my class. They loved hearing her life story (and who wouldn’t — what an inspiration!). Once we’d read one biography, I chose another, and then another. These were my read alouds to my sixth graders that year.
The “Who Was” series published by Grosset & Dunlap is brilliant! The covers feature a “bobblehead” version of the person featured, and the chapters are short enough to make these great read alouds.
4. Irresistible current events
Two topics that middle school students are passionate about: technology and the environment.
I love the book Teen Cyberbullying Investigated by Judge Tom Jacobs. This book grapples with issues that need to be discussed and addressed in middle and intermediate school…and beyond.
This book shares case studies of online behavior and involves the reader with a “How would you decide this case?” before revealing the court ruling. Many of the topics are edgy (as to be expected with this topic), but this book offers a concrete way to engage students in a discussion about online behavior.
What’s the Point of Being Green by Jacqui Bailey is another book that offers lots of information in an variety of ways.
Lots of opportunity to infer from charts, fact boxes and timelines.
5. Nonfiction opens doors to questions.
We know questions lead to research. That’s why I love the “You Have a Pet What?!” series published by Rourke.
Perfect for intermediate grades, and the students love the variety of pets featured — including an adorable hedgehog! This series is sure to get your students talking about unusual pets and wanting to learn more.
Keep that stash of nonfiction rotating on your bookshelf, make sure the covers are visible, use them for a quick read aloud, get a cartful from your library to spark genius hour, or host a try-it-Tuesday event with a variety of nonfiction topics!
Take it a step further by adding nonfiction to your literature circles.
If you’re looking for additional ways to motivate your students to read more nonfiction, try using nonfiction badges they can earn. You can find them on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.